PLATE 1. Caricature carving by Harold Enlow of Harrison, Arkansas. Silver Dollar City, April 18, 2008.

Ozark History, Culture & Craftsmanship

by Joshua Heston

The Arkansas Ozarks are different from the Missouri Ozarks and I’m racking that difference up to “social and directional influences.”

That’s a fancy way of saying something really simple: The Arkansas Ozarks are in the Deep South. Up here in Missouri, there’s some ambiguity about where our mountains even lie. The Midwest? The South? The gateway to the West? For the Missouri Ozarks, nobody seems to be all that sure.

But down in Arkansas?

The answer is easy to come by. The Boston Mountains, Springfield Plateau, and the Ouachita Mountains are the Deep South’s westernmost mountain ranges, a rugged land of beauty and hardship, a last remnant of Native American culture, a place of deep hollers and longstanding hillbilly families, where the Santa Fe Trail from Fort Smith points the way of the setting sun.

It’s a Deep South culture with Antebellum, Cajun, Spanish and Native American influences… and a deep sense of identity. Gracious old cities like Fayetteville and Little Rock serve as counterpoints to the folk music valley of Mountain View (land of Jimmy Driftwood and the Ozark Folk Center) and the uniquely Southern Gothic city of Eureka Springs.

It’s a land of a proud people, extraordinary mountains and unique Ozarks culture. It’s also home to some of the best food you’re going to find anywhere; a menu heavy with okra gumbo, crawdads, rice, tomatoes with zucchini, fried chicken… and some of the best fruit pies around.

I’m getting hungry.


Ozark Craftsmanship

Knife Making

Plate 1. Ozark knives against rabbit skins and oak leaves. State of the Ozarks Photo Archive. Knife Making by Joshua Heston Plate 2. Jehu Knife Detail, May 30, 2014. Like fire and ice, the beauty of a hand-crafted knife captivates the imagination. An age-old art, knife making hearkens of generations past. Knives are essential tools,…

Thomas Hart Benton

Plate 1. The Departure of the Joads This egg tempera and oil painting was created by Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton in 1940. The art was commissioned by 20th Century Fox to advertise their film production of John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath. The rugged depiction of form is typical of Benton’s unique regional…

The George Kieffer Murals of the Fox Theatre

The George Kieffer Murals of the Fox Theatre by Joshua Heston In the old Fox Theatre — the Abundant Life Covenant Church since 1985 — on the Springfield Square, a series of murals celebrating the history of Springfield, Missouri, are displayed. The murals are the work of George Kieffer and each demonstrate his craftsmanship, his…


“All life was not dull work for James Columbus Booth. He was a musician. He had no musical training, but somewhere in his Irish and Scotch ancestry there must have been a harp or bagpipe player because Lum could truly make his old fiddle sing. He kept the instrument in a bleached, white muslin flour sack carefully laid in the bureau drawer. Inside the fiddle, he kept a set of rattles from a rattlesnake, ‘to help the tone,’ he explained.”

— Doug Mahnkey, Bright Glowed My Hills, School of the Ozarks Press, Point Lookout, Missouri 1968

PLATE 2. Sunset Ozark Trail. Photo by Joshua Heston, October 29, 2011.

Ozark History

The 37th Annual War Eagle Craft Fair

The 37th Annual War Eagle Craft Fair by Joshua Heston and Dale Grubaugh It all started with a heavy rain. The clouds rolled over the Ozark hills along with unseasonably cold temperatures. Plate 2. Downpours hit the high country of the Boston Mountains — the headwaters of the White River, the Kings River, and the…

Cushaw Pumpkins

Plate 1. Shmoo In The Cradle (Jonathan’s Pumpkin or White Cushaw), February 5, 2008. As a side note, this particular cushaw weighed in at 20.5 pounds. Now that’s prolific! — the editor Cushaw by Donny Heston Unsuspectingly, I took a packet of Jere Gettle’s white cushaw seeds and planted four hills, each a hoe-handle length…

Hillbilly Vegetable Fixin’s

Plate 1. Harvest cornucopia. October 11, 2008. Hillbilly Vegetable Fixin’s from How They Lived In The Ozarks by Chick Allen Chick Allen, fourth generation in the Ozarks — of Indian blood — was born in a log cabin on the James River. This is the story of the way the early Indians and white settlers…

Arcane Ozarks

The Ozark Spooklights

The Ozark Spooklights by Margie Kay (with art by Curtis Copeland) StateoftheOzarks Writers Artists Night 2020 The state of Missouri has its share of anomalies – but the so-called Spooklights, which remain unexplained to this day, are perhaps the strangest phenomena of all. The Marley Woods is the name given to an undisclosed location in…

Tales of Hogscald Holler

“Raw Head” or “Demon-Hog” by Lance Estep, 1988, charcoal Tales of Hogscald Holler by Lance Estep Adjoining Hogscald Holler is Durham Mill Hollow. This hollow has a large cave with walls — according to multiple sources — covered by petroglyphs carved by the Ancient Ones: the Ozark Bluff Dwellers who came before the Osage, Quapaw…

Elias Tucker Goes to War… Well, Sorta

Elias Tucker Goes to War… Well, Sorta BY DALE GRUBAUGH On the bank of Wilson’s Creek the battle lines had been drawn. We advanced a few feet, then upon command, we retreated a few. Moments later we were ordered to advance back to our previous position only to be pushed back to where we had…